Jinggoy grills COA chief: Why gang up on us?

Senator Jinggoy Estrada tells COA chief Tan not to blame lawmakers for the implementation of PDAF-funded projects

'GANGING UP.' Sen Jinggoy Estrada accuses COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan of "ganging up" on opposition senators in COA's budget hearing. Photo by Cesar Tomambo/Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines – “You should blame the heads of implementing agencies. Why gang up on the legislators who don’t have any control of funds?”

Weeks after his privilege speech, Senator Jinggoy Estrada found the opportunity to grill Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan at the agency’s second budget hearing in the Senate. Estrada is one of 3 senators facing a plunder complaint over the pork barrel scam, where the COA audit report was used as one of the supporting documents.

In the budget hearing on Wednesday, October 16, Estrada said that he and other lawmakers should not be held liable for the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) because responsibility rests with the implementing agency.

Estrada did not touch on the COA budget but on how the agency was supposedly selective in its audit. He complained about Tan’s media statements that she will issue a notice of disallowance to those implicated in the scam including himself, asking for the refund of the money. Tan said this was the “consequence” of issuing the notice.  

The senator grilled Tan on issues ranging from the audit, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to her press statements but the COA chief held her ground in the testy exchange.

Estrada told Tan, “Bahala ang implementing agency. Nag-endorso kami ng NGO. It happened to be bogus. ‘Di naman namin alam. Dapat you call their attention, tinigil ang pagpapadala ng pera. Bakit kami ang sisihin?”

(It’s up to the implementing agency. We endorsed an NGO. It happened to be bogus. We did not know. You should call their attention, stop the release of funds. Why blame us?)

Tan said, “We are not blaming you. It was the implementing agencies that said they have no hand in the implementation. They should know from you that you do not believe them.”

Tan explained that in the COA audit, implementing agencies said that they merely followed the instructions of the legislator. She said though that she too does not buy the agencies’ explanation but lawmakers also have responsibility in the process.

“The implementing agency is responsible for funds. They are directly, primarily liable but it also says in the law that they are not the only ones liable but everyone involved in the use of the funds,” Tan told Estrada.

Estrada rejected her explanation.

Ganito lang iyon eh. Alam na pala nilang bawal o bogus. Bakit sila tanggap nang tanggap ng pondo galing sa [endorsement ng] senador?” (It’s this simple. They already know it’s illegal or the NGO is bogus. Why do they keep receiving money from the senator’s endorsement?)

Tan said, “Dapat po kayo magtanong.” (Then you should ask them.)

Estrada shot back that it was the responsibility of COA’s resident auditors in the implementing agencies.

Tan said, “We called their attention. That’s a good question to ask them and we also asked them that. I also want to know how come they did not see anything or why they did not stop it.”

The hearing was postponed, with the finance committee deferring for the second time the passage of COA’s budget. Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said he wants to ask questions on behalf of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. Senator Nancy Binay of the Senate minority was also present in the hearing.  

The budget hearing comes after Estrada delivered a privilege speech in September where he criticized Tan for the supposed selective audit and the administration’s alleged “selective justice” against opposition lawmakers.

Estrada, Enrile and Bong Revilla are accused of channeling their PDAF to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for hefty kickbacks.

ANOTHER HEARING. Minority senators ask for a 3rd budget hearing of the COA, saying they have more questions on its audit of the pork barrel funds. Photo by Ramon Lopez/Senate PRIB

‘DBM can protect admin allies’

Estrada asked Tan why the PDAF of the 3 opposition senators was almost completely audited while that of other congressmen were only audited up to 40%.

Tan said that the COA relied on documents from the DBM, which was not able to give all the records the agency needed.

Estrada said, “Kung walang ibinigay ang DBM, paano niyo malalaman? Di ba base sa SARO iyan? Kung kulang ang sa kaalyado nila?” (If the DBM does not give you the documents, how will you know? Isn’t that based on the SARO? What if they don’t give the SARO of their allies?)

Tan replied, “Di ko po alam. ‘Di ko kilala sino ang kaalyado at sino ang hindi at hindi namin tinitingnan iyan.” (I do not know. I do not know who are their allies and who are not and we do not look at that.)

The COA chief said the agency can ask the implementing agency for copies of the special allotment release order (SARO) and notice of cash allocation (NCA) if the DBM does not give these.

Estrada was unconvinced. In an interview, he said, “She herself admitted that if DBM does not give the documents or wants to hide something, they can do it. Maybe COA is not selective but it’s the departments that are.”

He said the DBM can choose not to release the NCAs because unlike the SARO, the NCAs have the name of the legislator.

“Our perception is if COA says ‘unidentified legislator,’ when it’s an administration ally and the DBM does not want to give the document, they put unidentified. I think that’s a fair statement to make,” Estrada said. 

‘Ask who owns Jollibee’

Estrada also asked Tan why only the years 2007 to 2009 were included in the COA audit of the PDAF. Tan said she was not the chairperson yet when the COA decided to conduct the audit. 

The senator said, “Assuming may anomalya 2001 to 2006, ano ibig sabihin quits na, tapos na? Porque walang whistleblower, libre na sila, ganun ba?” (Assuming there was an anomaly from 2001 to 2006, does it mean that’s it, they are cleared? Just because there’s no whistleblower, they go scot-free, is that it?)

Estrada also asked about COA’s other audits. Tan said the COA has finished its audit on the Malampaya fund allotted to the agrarian reform department and Palawan, and this will be released in November. The audit of the fund for other departments is still ongoing.

The senator also asked Tan to be circumspect in her media pronouncements. “I hope you avoid giving comments in media saying you will ask legislators to refund the money. We are not the custodians of the funds concerned.”

Tan said, “Noted.”

Estrada also used the hearing to ask Tan to read for the record the alleged misuse of the PDAF of House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, a key administration ally. Estrada blasted Gonzales in his privilege speech, particularly the use of his PDAF for purchases in the fastfood chain Jollibee.

Estrada said, “Alamin ninyo sino ang may-ari ng Jollibee.” (Find out who owns Jollibee.)

Tan said, “Huwag niyo na kaming pahirapan. Sabihin niyo na kasi tapos na ang audit.” (Don’t give us a hard time. Tell us who since the audit is finished)

Estrada refused. – Rappler.com



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